Tom Cruise can’t patch together a credible performance.
VALKYRIE directed by Bryan Singer, from a screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, with Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson. An MGM release. 120 minutes. Opens December 25. For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
Miscasting Tom Cruise seriously handicaps Valkyrie
There are two problems with Bryan Singer's Valkyrie, a WWII thriller starring Tom Cruise as a German military officer who was part of a 1944 plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
The first is the horrific miscasting of Cruise as a one-eyed, one-handed, three-fingers-on-the-remaining-hand German. The second is the whole not-killing-Hitler thing.
Either of these would have been a considerable stumbling block to selling the movie. Together, they kill it dead.
Casting Cruise as the compelling central character of Count Claus von Stauffenberg, whose disillusionment with Hitler's North African strategy led him to join the movement against the Führer, turns into a failed stunt.
Wearing an eye patch and using his own accent while surrounded by English and German co-stars, Cruise simply isn't credible in the role - and he just makes it worse when he tries to play to von Stauffenberg's disabilities. At a preview screening, shots of the actor saluting with his prosthetic stump were met with bursts of laughter; it's like the audience were antibodies, rejecting him.
Cruise isn't the only part of Valkyrie that doesn't work, though. He's only one actor fighting a doomed battle against history. Valkyrie's storyline itself keeps the film from generating suspense, since we know Hitler wasn't assassinated. It's certainly possible to milk a foregone conclusion for exquisite tension - Apollo 13 comes to mind - but it doesn't happen here.
Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander's screenplay employs the structure of a classic espionage thriller: long scenes of conspirators debating specifics, enlisting new operatives and carefully setting their plans in motion. More than half the film is set-up. The execution of the plot, and the uncertainty that followed - when the German reserve army briefly mobilized against the SS, as von Stauffenberg had planned - is jammed into the last 40 minutes or so.
It's always disappointing to see a strong, smart filmmaker get stuck with a project he can't jolt into life. Singer, who's at his best bringing emotion and gravitas to comic book projects (and I include The Usual Suspects in that group) is at a loss here. He gives the story the proper big-budgety treatment - troops massing, banners waving - and has instructed Newton Thomas Sigel to shoot everything with the proper low-angle respectability, but he spends that first 70 minutes looking for the starter button.
The rest of the cast seems a little bit lost, too; perhaps they had the same trouble taking Cruise seriously as my audience."
Bill Nighy's entire take on his character, General Friedrich Olbricht, seems to be that he's hiding a spastic colon from his comrades. Kenneth Branagh, Kevin McNally, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard and Black Book's Carice van Houten (playing Mrs. von Stauffenberg) put in brief appearances but have nothing at all to do.
They're like the other agents in a Mission: Impossible movie. Whatever their supposed function in the plot, they're really just there to enable Cruise. I'm glad they drew Hollywood salaries for their time, but their parts could just as easily have been played by mannequins.
The only big nomination could come for Academy fave Tom Wilkinson's supporting turn. Other than that, count on cinematography, art direction, score and editing. Yawn.